State government takeover of Aurukun school a "knee-jerk" reaction


2016 May, 28

ELIZABETH JACKSON: It's been another tense night in the north Queensland township of Aurukun after politicians, police and Aboriginal elders met yesterday in a bid to ease community unrest.

The Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has floated the idea of her Government taking control of the Cape York Academy primary school, after the school was shut down for the second time this month and teachers moved out because of safety concerns.

Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson today is defending the reputation of the school, so I asked him whether it was a good idea for the Queensland Government to take over the Cape York Academy.

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, they're welcome to do whatever they like. At the end of the day, it is a state school.

But when we took it over in 2010, it was a veritable Augean stable of long-standing failure and dysfunction. That was the case when the state ran the school for about 30 years, since the mission times. They never did get the Aurukun school right.

In 2010 we took over, with the Cape York Academy. We introduced an evidence-based program in direct instruction. We introduced club and culture programs that extend beyond the school day to half-past-four in the afternoon. We have a fantastic music program with the kids, with (inaudible) and John Morrison running a stage band.

The school has never been as good as it has been in these past five years.

So this knee-jerk reaction by the Minister when she went to Aurukun yesterday is just baffling. But I suppose it's her prerogative.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: But the school seems to have become the focus point for all the problems?

NOEL PEARSON: Well, that's the amazing thing, isn't it? These problems of community members attacking teachers and teachers not feeling safe and teachers reporting incidents they've seen and no action being taken by the police: they go back last year.

I wrote the letter in September last year. There was no response from the State Government.

And so there's been this switch. There's a law-and-order issue down the village. And the school has been scapegoated in this process, and particularly by the actions of the Premier and Minister for Education yesterday.

There was virtually no focus yesterday on the grog, on the juvenile delinquents that have been responsible for attacking the teachers and the principal. And there's absolutely no discussion about the completely terrible state of community policing by the Queensland Police Service.

Instead, it's just been just been easy to say, "All the problems of Aurukun stem from the failure in the education system."

ELIZABETH JACKSON: But is it just the school staff that have been targets? Or have there been other people in the community?

NOEL PEARSON: No. There have been car-jackings. If you're a service provider in Aurukun, you have got every chance of getting your car stolen.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: So it's not just the teachers?

NOEL PEARSON: No, it's not just the teachers that are being targeted. But of course, teachers that are only - the Department of Aboriginal Affairs withdrew their bureaucrats, I don't know, more than a year ago. They don't have any staff stationed in the community, because of these problems.

The people who can't afford to leave, of course - who have to stay there 24-7 for 10 weeks at a time - are the teachers. And you would think that what the Government's done now is scapegoated them and their work with the children at the school.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Have you spoken to the teachers? How do they feel about what's happened?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, you know, I've spoken to the school leaders and they're just gutted. They're just amazed.

They're in fact the victims of what's gone on in the community and yet it is their work at the school that has been scapegoated by the politicians and by the community leaders.

And the terrible thing about what the politicians did in Aurukun yesterday was that, not only have they allowed the police off the hook - because we've seen all the videos, right, of police allowing community members to fight, like it's some kind of circus or something...

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Well, the police seem to be taking a "hands-off" approach there?

NOEL PEARSON: Oh, absolutely. And it's been going on for community members. Phyllis Yunkaporta and other elders have been...


NOEL PEARSON: Because, I think, they're just at sixes and sevens about how to approach community policing. After the death in custody at Palm Island of Mulrunji, Queensland Police right across the state have been at sixes and sevens about how to - they don't want to - they think they will inflame the problems if they intervene too much.

You know, I think they're quite shell-shocked in a policy sense. And therefore community members don't receive proper policing as they're entitled to receive.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Noel Pearson, what needs to happen next?

NOEL PEARSON: Well, there needs to be - I completely accept that: let's have the review of the school. I'm very confident that the school has the data to show the efficacy of all of its programs with the children, the champion work undertaken by those teachers, the champion diligence of the kids who attend and the parents who send them.

Let's have the review of the school. But hey, let's return to the original question: where is the review of policing? Because those teachers have been battling against the law-and-order problem for four years.

And I wrote to the Minister for Police last September, laying out and sending all of those case studies from the teachers about things that they'd experienced and the things that they witnessed down the street. Let's have a review of the law-and-order and the policing provision in Aurukun, the grog, the violence and, quite frankly, the failure of the community's leaders to take control of the situation.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson.

State government takeover of Aurukun school a "knee-jerk" reaction